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review for Anglicans Online
A review of
Like many graduate students at Toronto School of Theology over the last 30 years, I had the privilege of knowing and studying under Joanne McWilliam. She was an extraordinarily gifted patristics scholar, a renowned authority on Theodore of Mopsuestia, Augustine, and the whole patristic theological tradition, east and west. She was also a great encourager of graduate students. She was born and educated a Roman Catholic but in 1985 became an Anglican; she was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Toronto three years later. Over the years she taught at St. Michael’s and Trinity Colleges, Toronto, and General Seminary of the Episcopal Church, New York. She died on 1 July 2008 in Toronto.
From Logos to Christos is a festschrift for Joanne, begun before her death (she knew of it) but published only last year. Christology is its unifying theme. A biographical and thematic Introduction is followed by 14 essays divided into two sections, “Christology and Tradition” and “Christology and Ethics”. This rather loose structure enables a great variety of contributions. These contributions reflect the variety of Joanne’s interests and relationships.
The challenge of a festschrift is to make it coherent, interesting and readable. By and large the editors have succeeded. True to the genre, the strongest essays are those at the beginning and end, with some of the middle sagging a bit. The book begins with essays on the “applied” Christology of Greek amulets in Late Antiquity by Theodore de Bruyn; “four Canadian constructions of the Christ figure” by Mary Ann Beavis; and a discussion (in French) of the Christology of the apocryphal Acts of Thomas by Paul-Hubert Poirier and Yves Tossot. It ends with yet another (yet solid) attempt (by Cynthia Crysdale) to put forward a more Christian theology of the Atonement than Anselm’s violent substitutionary theory of Cur Deus Homo; and a fine critique by Jane Barter Moulaison of Reinhold Niebuhr’s misappropriation of Augustine’s City of God for his “Christian realism”. But even the middle holds up, with Roger Haight’s incisive critique of contemporary Logos theology and his attempt to appropriate Schleiermacher, Tillich and Schillebeeckx for a more viable Trinitarian theology today; it becomes clear why he has upset the Vatican.
Festschrifts are a labour of love so it is not fair to be harsh. However, Deirdre Good’s essay on “mobile hospitality” could have had a stronger Christological focus (or is Christology simply exegesis of biblical narrative?); Peter Slater’s comparison of Augustine and Tillich in the light of Richard Niebuhr’s model of “Christ the transformer of culture” could have been edited down and become much sharper and clearer; and Michael A. Fahey’s account of the increasing significance of the Trinity in ecumenical ecclesiology races through consultation documents without much in-depth discussion.
Two very creative essays deserve special mention. Elizabeth A. Johnson attempts through “deep Christology” to extend the Incarnation to all of creation, bringing together potentially diverging theologies of creation and social justice. It is interesting to see Teillard de Chardin, now often discredited as a theologian, re-emerge. Creation is seen as a cosmological process that is good, enabling humanity to emerge, but also a wounded victim (“who is my neighbor?” … “the whale”), being destroyed by humanity’s greed. Yet as I write this review, nature is showing itself in earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, the result of another natural process of creation, the cooling globe (despite the warming of its atmosphere). Nature as entropy and destruction (“red in tooth and claw”) also needs to be addressed, or else one ends only with an updated Wordsworth-like romanticism, occasionally shattered by tragedy. There are ethical implications here too. For example, is it right for a church institution on a geological fault line to build housing as a financial investment, knowing that the lives of those in the houses may someday be endangered? (Not to mention governments and nuclear power plants.) Nature is not just a victim of human greed; it is also a power stronger than humanity that deserves respect and theological reflection in that role.
Secondly, Pamela Dickey Young’s “Neither Male nor Female: Christology beyond Dimorphism” is a creative attempt to re-state Christology in light of attempts to see not just gender but also sex (commonly understood as “male” and “female”) as social constructs. The argument could have used more empirical evidence (for example, the examples in Third Sex Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History edited by Gilbert Herdt) and analogies might have been drawn with race. Her conclusion that Jesus cannot be used as an ethical model (coming out of her critique of a Christology that “queers” Jesus and argues that he must be “performed” thus), leaves her with an entirely intuitive individualism that is apt to produce alienation rather than incorporation into a community based on a shared narrative. But the chapter certainly presents a creative way forward beyond sexual dimorphism for theological reflection on the “malenesss” of Jesus.
Finally, the biographical sketch in the Introduction fully documents Joanne’s Anglican years but rather gives short shrift to her Roman Catholic years. In particular, no mention is made of her working relationship (if there was one) with her first husband, the theologian Leslie Dewart. Indeed, curiously, he remains unmentioned.
In short, this is a very fine festschrift, full of interesting and challenging essays. They are a suitable memorial to a fine scholar and faithful teacher.